Boone County and the city of Columbia have come to a memorandum of understanding regarding the redevelopment of the former Boone County Fairgrounds as a recreation complex.
Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said at a Thursday afternoon news conference at the Daniel Boone City Building that the center will be for the benefit of all county residents.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said preliminary plans for the recreation center call for an all-inclusive playground, four baseball diamonds, a 29-acre agricultural park that could host the annual Boone County Fair, an eight-lane running track, two picnic shelters and parking for more than 700 vehicles. The city also will renovate the fairgrounds’ existing coliseum and Sapp Arena to be used for indoor sports, meetings and special events.
Under the agreement, the county will transfer ownership of the 134-acre fairground to the city, which will annex the property once it's developed. The county will retain ownership of 53.6 acres along northbound U.S. 63 across from the fairgrounds.
Griggs said the fairgrounds will allow the city to fill some unmet recreational needs and allow it to host more sporting events. Two challenges the city has faced are a lack of all-weather turf fields and an inadequate number of baseball fields.
The city also plans to extend the Bear Creek and Hinkson Creek trails to connect the fairgrounds with Albert Oakland and Stephens Lake parks.
The city also will take over the county’s portion of the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail.
“It just makes good sense,” Mayor Brian Treece said. “Our crews are already out there on a regular basis.”
The county will cede ownership of the redeveloped part of the fairgrounds to the city. It will keep the remaining 56 acres and maintain it. Long-term plans call for a hotel or another amenity that would complement the recreation complex.
Treece said there is no timeline yet for the beginning of construction. Griggs said he anticipates a three-year planning period and that the public will have plenty of opportunity for input.
The cost of the complex remains uncertain. Griggs said it’s possible it will be developed in stages, like Cosmo Park, as money becomes available.
Atwill said the goal of the complex is to turn Columbia into the amateur sports capital of Missouri and the Midwest, which in turn will enhance Boone County’s economy.
“With the recent formation of the city’s first sport commission and the business bureau’s emphasis on building sports tourism, this complex will make these goals much easier,” Atwill said.
The agreement comes 20 years after the Boone County Commission in 1999 elected to buy the former fairgrounds property, now known as the Central Missouri Events Center, for $2.4 million.
As it stands, the events center is closed. The county commission shuttered it after voters in August 2014 rejected a sales tax that would have funded its redevelopment and maintenance. The Boone County Fair left the property, and Sturgeon now hosts that event each year.
The county in October 2018 issued a request for proposals from entities interested in using the fairgrounds. Veterans United, UPS and JC Events, owned by Jeff Cook of the Boone County Fair Board, responded to proposals. In the end, the commission decided to continue leasing the property to Veterans United, which uses the fairgrounds’ coliseum, and to UPS, which stages vehicles in a parking lot on the property.
The city will continue to honor its existing leases with Veterans United and UPS until December 2022.
A first round of talks about a deal between the city and county regarding the fairground began in February 2018, when Southern District County Commissioner Fred Parry approached the Columbia City Council about ceding half ownership of the fairground to the city in exchange for its expertise in developing and managing parks. Mid-Missouri Sports Park, established by Columbia orthopedic surgeon Matt Thornburg, also would have been a major partner in that project, which would have included a field house and athletic fields.
The council was intrigued but decided it was best to focus on construction of the new sports field house at A. Perry Philips Park, which opened last month.
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